The Gospel of Mark may be the least known of the four gospels. I admit, that if it wasn’t for a seminary class, I wouldn’t be able to tell you the difference between Mark and Matthew other than Mark is shorter. However, after studying Mark more, I have fallen in love with this beautiful story about Jesus—the Christ the Son of God. A book that helped me see the beauty of this story is a short little book called Mark as Story: An Introduction to the Narrative of a Gospel by David Rhoads and Joanna Dewey. These authors really open your eyes to the plot, main motifs, and characters of the gospel. I highly recommend it! Now, the top six commentaries on Mark. It’s a fun mix of non-technical, semi-technical, and technical commentaries.
1. Mark (NIVAC) by David Garland $
If you’re surprised to see this here, I’m surprised myself that I have an NIV Application Commentary as number 1 on the list. I have been blown away by this commentary. Garland is a gifted writer that has a knack for following the narrative of the gospel. He gets that the focus of the narrative is Jesus, unlike some commentators that focus on discipleship (as if discipleship is not mainly about the one you are a disciple of). The commentary format is easy and helpful. Each pericope is discussed in its original meaning (exegetical), bridging contexts (theological), and contemporary significance (applicational). This commentary would be greatly beneficial to any and all.
2. The Gospel of Mark: A Commentary by Francis J. Moloney $
This commentary is an absolute steal for the price. Moloney has written a fabulous commentary on Mark. He is a Catholic scholar who has spent a lot of time studying the Gospels (especially John). This commentary is not overly technical, but the Greek text is certainly discussed at points. This commentary is strongest on the literary study of the narrative and drawing out theology from this study. Importantly, Moloney sees and develops crucial connections to the Old Testament throughout the commentary. At end of each section, he spends time making devotional comments. Consequently, this is highly recommended for laypeople, pastors, and scholars.
3. Mark (AYBC, 2 Volumes) by Joel Marcus $$$$
This is a brilliant although sometimes idiosyncratic commentary on Mark. Marcus argues that the main motif of the Gospel is the connection between the “way of Yahweh” in Isaiah and the “way of Jesus” in Mark. This New Exodus is acted out as Jesus makes His victorious march to Jerusalem. But, as Isaiah prophesied, “The Servant’s suffering is the divinely appointed means for the realization of the dominion of God.” (Marcus, Vol. 2, 591) I am convinced of his argument, therefore I love this commentary. If you are not convinced of this thesis, then it won’t be as valuable for you, but you will undoubtedly still find many exegetical gems that other commentators miss. Unfortunately, the volumes are very expensive and are academically dense. So I wouldn’t recommend this unless for serious study, but your study will uncover the upside-down beauty and glory of Jesus.
4. The Gospel of Mark (NIGTC) by R.T. France $$
This is an outstanding and comprehensive commentary on Mark. Numbers 1 through 4 on this list are all very close. Really, if you are just wanting one technical commentary on Mark, this is the one. France is a preeminent NT scholar—one who has written widely on the Gospels. This expertise becomes clear throughout the commentary. He sees the main message of the book focused on both Christology and discipleship i.e. who Jesus is and what it means to follow him. (France, 22) France is keen at following the narrative and often focuses on literary issues. Highly recommended for pastors and teachers.
5. The Gospel of Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary by Ben Witherington III $$
A solid evangelical commentary by a prominent New Testament scholar. As the subtitle notes, this commentary focuses on (1) the social setting of the story and the social setting of the audience (Witherington believes it was written to Roman Christians in the late 60’s) and (2) the rhetorical literary argument of the narrative. The commentary is strong on both accounts. Additionally, there are several social setting excursuses spread throughout and most sections have a “bridging the horizons” section that moves into theology and application of the narrative. Another strength is Witherington’s ability to consistently choose powerful and concise quotes from other scholars.
6. The Gospel according to St. Mark by C.E.B. Cranfield $$
A tour de force on the Greek text of Mark. Full disclosure, I am partial to Cranfield because I love his Romans commentary so much. But this commentary is excellent. If it wasn’t so dated, it would be much higher on the list. It’s most valuable to people who know at least some Greek, but Cranfield’s comments are often focused on the flow of the narrative as well. You’d be hard pressed to find a better commentary that works through the Greek text of Mark. Highly recommended.